Monday, 11 January 2010

Cuba takes its toll!

In general tourists and locals are not permitted to intermingle, out in the sticks it isn’t any problem, in the busier tourist places the constant police presence make it difficult. The tourists themselves are virtually untouchable, locals can be whisked away in handcuffs, unlikely to be seen by you again. An American guy in Baracoa was escorted to the police station when spotted walking along chatting to a musician he’d befriended. The Cuban was handcuffed, Alix wasn’t! At the police station they asked Alix if he knew the Cuban, if the Cuban had been hassling him, or molesting as they call it. Insisting the guy was a friend and not causing him any trouble at all done no good for the Cuban. Al was told in no uncertain terms the guy was no friend of his, that he did not know him, and then released. He didn’t see the guy around the streets again! I find it hard enough being summoned through queues of people into a bank, or public building, by-passing the locals. It’s embarrassing and all I can do is apologise, I’ve persistently tried telling the doormen that other people were first, to no avail. I’m a tourist, privileged!

Touting for business is rife at every tourist transit point, the worst by far is at bus stations. Some are worse than others, by and large they all involve numerous people jostling for the first chance to hustle the new arrivals. You often have to fight your way through, many bus stations have an enclosed area for access to the buses themselves. Beyond this expect a mass of touts, all trying to outdo each other, offering taxis or accommodation. They will line up against windows with signs declaring price and location of their Casa, try shoving business cards through metal railings into your hand, anything to get your custom. At Baracoa there are huge metal gates barring access to the bus compound, the locals are well behaved here, they will not intrude beyond the line of the gates. Instead they form a solid pack barring your exit. With no exaggeration they form a battle line six deep, there’s no way around them, you have to go through; it’s a formidable sight. It’s far worse than Thailand, but similar for the instant bombardment at transit points. I was the first off the bus arriving here, it raised a laugh as I approached the impenetrable wall and blew out my cheeks in bewilderment. At least it caused a break in the cacophonous sound, but only briefly. Whatever happened to my usual way of dealing with this? In Thailand I’d allow everyone else to go first, let them take the worst of it, once it had quietened down I’d deal with the remaining few. I generally found these to be the less pushy, therefore easier to deal with, and more pleasant. Here I was unsure of getting a decent place to stay, having picked one form Lonely Planet I didn’t want to delay, I wanted to get there first, have first choice. As the crowd started rising to fever pitch I hollered out, “Is anyone from Casa Colonial Lucy here?” It worked a dream, with laughter one guy was thrust forward with unanimous declarations that he was family to the Casa owners, problem solved. The noise had changed, agreeable good humour for the manner in which I’d dealt with the situation, it was a new one for them. I was at my Casa and settled before any other Bici-taxis arrived in town, I felt rather proud of myself to be honest. Despite being overcharged I didn’t even argue with the Bici-taxi guy either, I gave him less assuring him it was still too high a price, then shook his hand goodbye. Hey, I don’t want to bear grudges, I’m here for at least a week, better to have a friendly wave each time we pass.

How dangerous is life in this country? Amputees are common, especially legs, though probably because they are more noticeable. I have no assumptions as to why, I can’t imagine it has anything to do with landmines, which is the common cause in many areas of the world. Only around the US naval base at Guantanamo are there any landmines, and I don’t think there is any rush to get in there. I can only think it is a money saving issue, having shortages of medical supplies and equipment it must be easier to amputate than initiate the lengthy process of long term treatment and rehabilitation. I know many Cuban doctors have travelled to places like Africa, especially Angola in years gone by, so their familiarity with the process of amputation could well make it their first choice. Makes my mind boggle, what state would I be in if having an accident like mine here. There’s a lot of talk of Cuba having one of the best medical services in the world, I have severe reservations over that. The most widely available quite likely, the cheapest almost definitely, but the shortages of equipment and medical supplies place grave restrictions on available treatment.

So much information in so little time, is it a true insight into Cuban life or one man’s biased view? If I was to question all the information gained by talking to people I would stay as ignorant as ever. What other source am I meant to use for insights into life in other countries. An interesting phenomenon is the housing issue, I knew all property was state owned, how housing was apportioned I’m still not clear. What I know now is the procedure for moving house, basically you must find a willing person to exchange property and make the appropriate application. It’s a straight swap, except money often changes hands unofficially. It makes it hard to move areas, if you have to find a person in Havana who wishes to move to Baracoa, for example, that can be almost impossible. If you live rurally, or in a very dilapidated house finding a willing exchange can be hard. So living in a campisimo, a farm in the backwaters, that is your destiny. Animals are privately owned, yet killing large animals is illegal. Pigs, chickens and goats are no problem; cows, mules and horses are. I was told the penalty used to be 8 years prison, Raul has now changed that, introducing harsher penalties, increasing the incarceration to 12 years. They are for milk or transportation, not food. If you steal your neighbour’s animal that is less of a penalty, no wonder beef is rarely seen as part of the menu. I believe tourist resorts have no such limitations, I have seen evidence of beef stock in the countryside, maybe it’s provision for the select few.

Went to a cock fight, can’t say I was impressed. Seeing two cockerels fighting didn’t faze me at all, it’s what they do. It was the bloodlust of the crowd that I found hard to accept, they were positively baying for blood. Every fight was to the death, and a lot of money changed hands. The crowds were vast, it was an all day event with dozens of birds. Set up like a fiesta, whole families attended, though it was dominated by males. Food and drink stalls were set up, and many alternative means of gambling were in evidence; dice, dominoes. It was interesting though, the second fight I was thinking it too much. One cock was just legging it away from what seemed the dominant, it ran round the ring in flight for a good ten minutes; I thought the outcome obvious. One guy was shouting himself hoarse cheering on the apparent loser, taking more and more bets on it. After a lengthy game of cat and mouse the tables turned, once it had worn out the supposed victor. Then it rapidly dispatched the other, a decisive victory. I never realised they had the forethought to use tactics in that way. I only watched the two fights and then got bored. Of more interest was the reactions of the crowd, that was what I wanted to photo. My first attempt to take a photo of the ring and attendants I nearly got a walking cane thrown at me. A youngish guy, obviously an important part of the event organisation, was the one who got threatening towards me. I fiddled with my camera to get the ideal settings and by the time I was ready for the shot he’d noticed and flipped out at me. I should have been quicker, but it marked the end of any possible photos.

For much of my adult life I’ve held the belief that anger is an emotional barrier, a protective barrier against our pain and suffering, especially for western males. Instead of having to deal with that which causes us grief we get angry. This has caused me to spend an awful lot of time and effort trying to deal with my anger, trying to overcome the angry response, allowing myself to deal with the sadness accumulated throughout my life. In our western traditions males aren’t encouraged to express our softer emotions, anger is the one emotion expected of us, I don’t hold much faith in such philosophy. This has been the root cause of the aggressive manner displayed in international politics. It’s male bullshit, and about time it became a thing of the past. On a personal level, when Cai died my grief was so overwhelming anger stood no chance at all. If it was to act as a protective barrier I would have had to go on a murderous spree, wiping out every single person I could in any way hold responsible for my grief, and that is just not me. Since then those destructive emotions have dissipated, only vague thoughts of venting my anger have emerged. Now and again I may be sat and get a random thought to throw something against the wall , or out the window. It’s never been a consideration, just a random thought which generally precedes a strong feeling of sadness, of loss. It would appear anger has lost its foothold on me, for which I can only express gratitude, but what a price to pay! I’ll honour this new found freedom from the scourge of my life, I’ll welcome a life without the threat of anger overwhelming me. But I still wish, beyond anything else, I could have my son back.

1 comment:

Ian said...

So many deep thoughts and emotions.The end of this entry brings so much into focus.You and I have both learnt and had to deal with the hurt and emotions of dealing with the loss of someone who has been the focus of our lifes for so long.The notion that western males can't or shouldn't express their emotions is very sad, but generally seems to be what is expected, by some at least! Bugger to what people expect, do what feels right.There are a lot of lessons to be learnt from the loss of someone special in our's a bit different for everyone. We should all remember that the day we stop learning is the day we stop living.